Silly Me

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Stepping on snakes scares the bejesus out of me.  I hate the way the once solid ground becomes a writhing mass under foot.  Not usually a screamer, I react loudly as I fly as far as I can to get away from the sensation and its cause.

I’m not a snake hater.  In fact, I’m fine with most snakes when I am over here, and they are over there where I can keep an eye on them.  Sometimes that arrangement doesn’t happen.  Sometimes, a snake and I try to share the same ground space. When that happens, well, I am getting too old for the sudden adrenaline rush that sends my heart rate into the danger zone.

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My attitude changes a bit when the snake in question is a poisonous one.  I don’t want to be in any kind of proximity to poisonous snakes.  I don’t like to look at them in a relatively safe environment such as in the snake house at the zoo (Glass breaks, you know).  I don’t like to see them in dioramas at the Natural History Museum (Are you sure they are dead)?  I don’t want to watch shows about them on National Geographic or Animal Planet, or see pictures of them in magazines or field guides (That’s the stuff bad dreams are made of). Larry McMurtry planted a permanent bad image in my head with a description in Lonesome Dove of someone falling off their horse in a rain swollen river and landing in a ball of rattlesnakes which was being swept downstream. Yikes!

Most days, I don’t have to worry about poisonous snakes in general.  I just have to worry about rattlesnakes. Rattlers live in the desert. It’s their home turf. They have every right to be there.  I am the intruder and I intrude on a regular basis. I walk in the desert near my house almost every day. Almost every day in warm weather, I run the risk of bumping into a rattler. I don’t wish the rattlers harm.  I just wish them elsewhere, far elsewhere from where I am at the moment

One reason I walk is that it is good exercise.  Another is that it is usually quiet where I walk,  so I can get into my head to think. However, once the weather warms enough for the snakes to come out, I do not think anymore, I am devoted to watching the trail carefully for an anomalous shape, the shape of a rattlesnake.  A shape I really wish never to see.

Every time I venture into the desert, I figure my chances of bumping into one get better.  New Mexico is home to nine species of rattlesnakes, according to the New Mexican Herpetological Society. Four of the nine can be found in the desert near where I live. That’s two more than I thought, thanks research.

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I haven’t figured out what disturbs me more about the fact that I could see a rattler at any moment while out for my walk. Whether it’s the startle response, the pain and suffering which could follow being bitten, or is it that I am being pretty silly about the whole thing.  I’ve been walking in the same area for four years now and have yet to see a rattler.  Maybe I should just relax a bit about the whole rattler thing or are the odds of seeing one increasing every time I take a walk and don’t see one? But isn’t that tempting fate just a little too much?

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Thanks to Gail Leedy for the pictures.  She has seen rattlers on her runs .  These are some of them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Fingernails

I followed a set of fingernails down the hall one day at school. Not just ordinary fingernails, but amazingly long fingernails.  Each one, and yes, there were ten of them growing from each of one of my colleague’s fingertips, was at least two inches long.  It makes my skin crawl just to think of them.

The long fingernails reminded of a book my Aunt Millie used to have called Ripley’s Believe It or Not. It was a compilation of the best and weirdest from the newspaper column by that name which ran in newspapers across the country.  Each time I visited Aunt Millie’s house in Florida, when I was a kid, I read it from cover to cover with horrified fascination.  One item which particularly repulsed me was the rather sinister drawing of an ancient Mandarin official with fingernails like croton leaves which corkscrewed and bent back on themselves.  They were three feet long. Believe it or not.

It seems that during a period in Chinese history, men of a certain class let their nails grow extremely long as a symbol of their exalted position.  The longer the nails grew, the less able were the officials were to perform any sort of labor, and finally, any sort of task at all.  Others had to do everything for them.  This was a sign of great power and wealth.  Paradoxically, the more helpless the men were, the more powerful they were.  This is the same kind of thinking that produced the custom of binding feet.  Women of the upper classes in that same country became utterly dependent on others to move them from place to place because their tiny, mutilated bound feet were thought to be a sign of beauty.  Ripley’s drawing of the nails was meant to be grotesque, to shock, and it did.  So did hearing about bending little girls’ feet back and tying them.  And, like so many things which shock at an early age, they formed an indelible impression.

In China, it was certain men who grew their nails so long.  In our culture, it is certain women.  Being a lifelong short-nailed person, I don’t pretend to know what motivates someone to grow really long nails or to have acrylic ones glued on.  I have trouble imagining what makes a woman spend 75 dollars plus to have inch long slivers of plastic, called backscratchers by some, glued over her own nails.  This is only the beginning of a ritual meeting with a manicurist. A ritual which involves shaping, polishing, buffing and who knows what else.  These pseudo-nails must be periodically reapplied by the manicurist to hide the nail’s natural growth, like coloring your roots.  But, this is the fashion among certain women.  Women who stop short of the kind of nails I followed down the hall.

The nails I followed down the hall were different.  They were natural.  Our school secretary wore long acrylic nails.  I asked her how she was able to type with such nails.  She demonstrated for me.  She used the pads of her fingers rather than the tips.  Typing that way didn’t seem to slow her down. I mentioned the fingernails I had seen.  The secretary told me that they were much shorter they used to be.  I was amused that her reaction to the natural nails was much the same as mine:  They turned her stomach.

I wonder what kind of life a person with fingernails that long must lead.  Certainly, no life that resembles mine.  How does she dial her phone, zip a zipper or pick up anything tiny?  I wonder why she grows them so.  Perhaps it is just because she can.  Is it a display of power and status like the Mandarins, or simply vanity?

I think of all the things she can no longer touch with her fingertips, of cheeks she can no longer caress, babies she can no longer cuddle, of hands that must go unheld, of how her lover’s lips must go untraced. I wonder why someone would pay such a price for status, for power, or for vanity.